Lithuania to buy US helicopters to bolster NATO capabilities in Baltics
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 7, 2020
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. plans to sell six UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to Lithuania to boost allied quick response capabilities in a region regarded by some security analysts as one of NATO’s most vulnerable.
The deal, which will also include a full stock of related Black Hawk gear and weaponry such as M240H machine guns and missile warning systems, is worth $380 million, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement Monday.
The Black Hawks will help Lithuania support U.S. and NATO forces’ “rapid response to a variety of missions and quick positioning of troops with minimal helicopter assets,” the statement said.
The deal was announced as Lithuania modernizes its armed forces, and one year after the former Soviet republic entered into a new security agreement with the U.S. that calls for closer defense cooperation.
“The proposed sale of these UH-60 helicopters to Lithuania will significantly increase its capability to provide troop lift, border security, anti-terrorist, medical evacuation, search and rescue, re-supply/external lift, combat support in all weather,” the agency said.
Lithuania, which shares borders with the militarized Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to the south and Russia’s strategic partner of Belarus to the east, is considered by many security analysts to be one of NATO’s most exposed members.
Of particular concern is a 40-mile stretch of land along Lithuania’s border with Poland, known as the Suwalki Gap, which, if seized by Russian forces in the event of a conflict, could result in the three Baltic states being cut off from the rest of the alliance.
NATO in recent years has added multinational battle groups in Lithuania and the other Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, as well as in Poland, to act as deterrents against potential Russian aggression.
The battle group in northeastern Poland is led by the U.S., and is particularly focused on security around the Suwalki Gap.